Listening for God’s Voice

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Epiphany 2
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18 and 1 Samuel 3: 1-10
The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel, Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
1 Samuel 3: 10 (NIV)

SETTING THE STAGE

Over the next three weeks we are going to look at what it means to be called by God. Today, we will look at the story of the call of Samuel and talk about how important it is for us to listen to God’s voice. Next week, we will look at how the disciples responded when they heard Jesus call to follow him. And finally in week three we will reflect on the positive outcome that are possible when we respond to God’s call.

So, let’s look at the call of God to Samuel found in 1 Samuel 1:1-10. But before we get to the story, I just want to give you a sense of where we are. The story takes place in the temple but it’s not the temple you’re thinking of. When we think of the Jewish temple, we generally think about the one in Jerusalem. But this predates that temple. That one will be built by King Solomon in about 950 BC. This story predates that by about one hundred years. The temple in today’s story was located in Shiloh which was about 30 km north of Jerusalem.

1 Samuel 1:1 (NIV) begins with these words: “The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.” We learn a few things from this verse that help to set the stage. First of all, the two main characters are introduced. Samuel is a boy who is ministering to the Lord at the temple. The second character is Eli. Eli is the high priest at the temple who is supervising the boy Samuel in his service to the LORD. So here are our two main characters, Samuel and Eli.

We also learn something else. The word of the Lord was rare in those days and there weren’t many visions. This might seem strange to us but what this tells us is that God was pretty quiet back then. God wasn’t speaking and God wasn’t sending any visions. That usually happened to Israel when the people weren’t being faithful to God so something is going on here behind the scenes and it’s probably not very good. God’s silence indicates that the people as a whole have turned away.

The story continues on 1 Samuel 3:2-3 (NIV) which says, “One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place” (which means it’s bedtime) “The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord where the ark was.” Again, there are all kinds of hints in these two verses that help us to understand this story. We learn that Eli is old. His eyes are so weak that he can barely see. The fact that the lamp of God had not yet gone out also gives us a timeframe. The lamp of God was lit every night and there was just enough oil in it to have it burn until morning. So the fact that the oil has not yet run out indicates that this story must be taking place just before daybreak. And Samuel is sleeping near the ark. This is also important because the ark was thought in some Jewish traditions to be the throne of God and wherever the throne is, there God must be as well. That’s a key thought because Samuel is about to hear a voice. What he doesn’t know and what I’m going to tell you right now is that the voice is God’s voice.

So now the stage is set. We have a young Samuel and an old Eli both sleeping in relatively close proximity to the ark, Samuel right in the same room and Eli probably in an adjoining room. And the sun is just about to peek its head over the horizon.

GOD CALLS SAMUEL

Let’s find out what happens. 1 Samuel 3:4-5 (NIV) says: “Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.’  But Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’ So he went and lay down.” Here we have a boy who is woken up in the still of the night. He hears a voice and thinks the obvious thought: “Eli must be calling me. I’ll go and see what he wants.” So he gets up, wanders over to Eli’s room and wakes him up.

But Eli hadn’t called. In fact, it sounds like Eli was fast asleep. Maybe he thinks that Samuel is dreaming. Maybe there’s a funny wind blowing through the halls that sounds like a voice. Whatever the voice was it is not Eli so Eli tells Samuel to go back to bed which Samuel does.

What I want you to notice from these verses is that neither Samuel nor Eli know what’s going on. Who’s calling? Samuel thinks that it’s Eli over in an adjoining room but it’s not. It’s God and God is not calling from another room. God’s voice is coming from the ark which is right beside Samuel. It’s clear to us because we are told it’s the LORD’s voice. But it was not the least bit clear to Samuel and Eli.

The obvious question is this: Why didn’t they recognize the God’s voice? The answer to that question is found back in verse 1. Do you remember what it said? It said, “In those days, the word of the Lord was rare and there were not many visions.” The reason they did not recognize God’s voice was because God had not spoken in a long, long time. And when you don’t hear a voice for a while, you’re likely to forget what it sounds like. And besides that, if you haven’t heard a voice for a while, you may not be expecting it. It’s like when your long lost cousin calls you out of the blue and you haven’t spoken to her for years. She knows who you are but from her voice, you haven’t a clue. There might be a hint of recognition but that’s about as far as it goes.

Isn’t that a problem today? Isn’t it true that we often don’t expect to hear God speaking to us? We aren’t expecting God to say anything. And so, even when God does speak to us, we don’t recognize God’s voice? Seriously, how many people here today expect to hear God speaking to them? I’m not just talking about an audible voice like Samuel heard. It could be a voice inside your head. It could be an urging or a prodding. It could be in your dreams. God can speak to us in countless ways. But are we listening? Are you open to hearing God’s voice and, if you heard it, would you recognize it? That’s a good question. And it’s an even more important question because when God speaks to you, he’s not usually wanting to talk about the weather. When God speaks to you, your life may be just about to change in some big or small way because chances are that he has something that he wants you to do. So keep listening.

GOD KEEPS CALLING

Let’s continue with the story. 1 Samuel 3:6 (NIV) says: “Again the LORD called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’ ‘My son,’ said Eli, ‘I did not call you; go back and lie down.” This sounds like a repeat of the first time Samuel heard his name being called. In fact, it is. All we really need to say about this is to remind ourselves that God is persistent and if you don’t recognize his voice the first time, he’s not beyond calling you again.

But then we get to 1 Samuel 3:7 (NIV) where we learn something else. It says, “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD; the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” That’s interesting. Samuel did not yet know the Lord. It say “not yet” which indicates that he would eventually know the Lord but that would come later when God would transform him into the last and greatest judge of Israel. But this little boy sleeping beside the ark didn’t know yet know God.

Isn’t that odd? There is Samuel, sleeping in the temple beside ark which was at that time the most important artifact in the Jewish faith, the throne of God so to speak, and he doesn’t really even know who God is. There’s a challenge for us. Here it is. Just because you’re in church doesn’t mean that you know God. Think about that.

There are all kinds of ways to get to know God. You can do it through prayer, through reading the Bible, through sacraments, through Bible study, through mentoring, journaling or other ways. But you don’t get to know by sitting in church if that’s all you do. As my son Andrew has often said, “Sitting in a church for an hour once a week no more makes you a Christian that sitting in the garage once a week makes you a car.” I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to church. In fact, I’d highly encourage it. But if you want to grow in faith, to become the people God whom wants you to be, so you have to do something else. You have to get involved. You have to learn the Bible. You have to learn to pray. You have to learn to listen for God’s voice.

ELI GETS IT

Let’s go on. 1 Samuel 3:8a (NIV) reads: “The LORD called to Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.'” Again it sounds exactly like the first two times. Samuel hears a voice, gets up and wakes up poor Eli who must be wondering what’s going on with this boy. All he wants to do is get some sleep and all Samuel seems to want to do is wake him up. Seriously, can’t this wait until morning?

But then, all of a sudden, Eli gets it. A lightbulb goes off – well, they didn’t have lightbulbs in those days but you know what I mean. Let’s read what it says in 1 Samuel 3:8b-9 (NIV): “Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘”Speak LORD, for your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.”

Eli finally gets it. Eli is old and it has been years since he has heard God’s voice. That’s probably why it has taken him so long to figure it out. He just wasn’t expecting it. Like that long lost cousin who finally phones you after decades of no contact, Eli didn’t recognize God’s voice. But now he does and he understands why Samuel keeps waking him up. He understands that something more is going on here than meets the eye. He understands that God is calling to Samuel in the next room and that he needs to give the boy some instruction on how to properly respond. This he does. Samuel, now equipped to listen, goes back and lies down one more time.

Here’s a question for you. How good are we at equipping the next generation to hear the voice of God? How good are we at enabling them to cut through the cacophony of noise that surrounds all of us to hear the voice of God whispering words of hope and love and peace? Do you know what I think? I think we could do a better job it. I think we could do more to enable the next generation to listen. But I think that it starts with what Eli did. What did Eli do? He was willing to listen to the voice of God himself. If we ever want to teach succeeding generations how to hear God’s voice, we first must be willing to do it ourselves because if we can’t do it how do we expect to be able to teach anyone else how to do it?

So what is God saying to you? Are you listening? For make no mistake about it – God has a message for you. God has a message for you and for this community and I have a sneaking suspicion that he wants to share it through this church, through this group of brothers and sisters in Christ because I believe that you fervently want to be the people of God in this place. But like Eli and like Samuel you have to wake from your slumber and open your ears and open your hearts and your soul to our God who only wants the very best for you and is willing to do more through you than you could ever imagine possible.

Isn’t that great news? Isn’t that what you need to hear? Isn’t that what you want to hear? Listen for God’s voice as it speaks to you.

Let’s get to the last verse. God has called three times. Eli has finally figured it out and instructed Samuel as to what he is to do. Isn’t it just amazing that God is just so persistent? God has a plan and God is going to make sure that plan work out. In the final verse of today’s story, in 1 Samuel 3:10 (NIV) it says this: “The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Then Samuel said, ‘Speak for your servant is listening.'”

Jackpot! God calls. Eli gets it and tells Samuel what to do. Samuel does what he is told and he hears God’s call. It was the beginning of a whole new chapter in the life, not only of Samuel but of the Chosen People. I just want to read you what it says a few verses later in 1 Samuel 3:19-20: “The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” Do you see what can happen when you listen to God? This little boy sleeping beside the ark in the temple who did not yet know God becomes a great prophet of God. And it all started with listening.

I just want to close today with a real quick story. You know, I don’t always listen like I should but there are those rare occasions when I do and I get it right. I want to share one of those times with you right now. It happened back at the end of October. I was at an event in Windsor on a Sunday evening. It finished at about 9:00 pm.

As I was leaving the hall, I remembered Jim Hatt. He had mentioned to me that he was scheduled for some tests the previous Thursday and I hadn’t heard how they had gone. I don’t normally text someone after 9:00 pm but I just felt this urge to text Jim and make that connection and it wasn’t going away. In fact, I fought it a few times but in the end did what I felt I needed to do. I sent the text, got into my car and started driving home.

As I was driving, a text came through. Being a responsible driver who doesn’t normally text while I drive I did not look at it but I got stopped at a red light on the corner of Ouelette and Erie St. Remember that corner because it’s important to the story. Safely stopped, I glanced at my phone. It was a return message from Jim. This is what it said, “I am at Hotel Dieu waiting for an ambulance to take me to London.” Remember where I said I was parked at what stop light? I was literally at the corner of Hotel Dieu hospital. “Holy mother of God,” I thought. So I replied asking Jim if he would like a visit. “Room 415b” was the response. So I parked the car and made my way up to the fourth floor when my friend Jim Hatt was patiently – yet a little anxiously – waiting for the ambulance to take him for the care that he needed to get in London.

We had a great visit which helped to pass the time and when you’re waiting for an ambulance that’s probably a good thing. A few hours later, after I was gone, the ambulance came and the rest is history. Jim got his surgery. Things didn’t work out quite as planned which is one of the reasons I’m going to Essex United Church to preach after I finish here. Jim had some complications but caused him to be laid up a bit until the end of the month. But things worked out.

So what do you think that was that persisted in calling me to text Jim on the Sunday evening in Windsor? Lots of people would say it was a coincidence. But I don’t believe in coincidences because I believe in God and I believe that God called me to text Jim that Sunday evening because I was supposed to visit Jim and I didn’t even know it. But God did.

That’s one of those times when I got it right, when I heard the voice of God. And the good news is that if I can get it right, so can you.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

We come to you, O God, after another week of activity and ministry. We pray that your blessings would continue to shower down upon us and what we do in the name of Jesus Christ.

We give you thanks for winter weather and snow. You made them too, O God. They are the work of your hand. Be with those, however, who find the cold and snow difficult to deal with. We pray today for safety on the roads and sidewalks.

We lift up in prayer those who mourn. Give them comfort in their sadness and peace in the midst of anxiety. Bless them with an inner healing that only your Spirit can provide. We keep in mind especially all those who mourn the loss of health, or a loved one, or a relationship, or a job or financial security, or even the loss of innocence. You, O God, are the one who brings wholeness to brokenness and hope out of despair. We trust you to do that for us even today.

We pray for those who are sick and those in hospital. We think especially about Sharon, Helen, Mary Ann and Lyle. Grant your healing touch, O God. Be with everyone else who is suffering from the flu that seems to be raging all around us. Be especially with the young children and the elderly who are most at risk.

Holy God, we want to always keep the priorities of our lives in proper order and balance, choosing your will and purpose over our own. Help us also to always remember that we have a purpose and reason for being here. Help us to understand more of that purpose and how we might fulfill it more completely.

Finally, we pray that you would give us bold hearts to share your Good News. Often, we are timid and hesitate to share our faith. We need your encouragement. There are other times when we are arrogant and insensitive. At those times, we need your gentleness and compassion. Give us, O God, the tools that we need to share the Gospel message and lead others to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Hear our prayers and the prayers of all of your people. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

January 14, 2018 / Epiphany 2

SCRIPTURE

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20); Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; John 1:43-51; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

CALL TO WORSHIP

Let us praise the One who gives us life.

Let us praise the One who knows our every thought.

Let us praise the One who speaks to our hearts.

Let us praise the One who hears our prayers.

Let us worship the One who calls and saves us.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

In you, O God, we are wonderfully made. As part of your created order, we lift our voices in praise to you, the Master Designer. Great is your power. Gentle is your love. Strong are your arms that hold us and offer comfort. Our voices are lifted in song. Our hearts are open to your Word. Fill us with your Spirit and surprises us, once again, by your amazing presence. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

ONE:   Hear, O God, the confessions of our heart as we come before your throne of grace;

ALL:   We call upon your mercy.

ONE:   Save us from the timid confusion that prevents us from doing your work;

ALL:   We call upon your compassion.

ONE:   Save us from the self-centeredness that consumes us and blinds us to the needs of others.

ALL:   We call upon your grace.

ONE:   Save us from the uncertainty of hesitation and enable us to step forward in faith to greet your Spirit with courage and confidence;

ALL:   Forgive us and empower us to walk closer to your way.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God’s power to forgive is boundless. The redeemed life the God offers is eternal. The forgiveness that we experience now is but a foretaste of the everlasting compassion of God who cleanses us from all of our sins.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

These gifts, O God, we bring to you in gratitude for your blessings. All that we have is yours. Give us the wisdom to use it for your purpose. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

God has called us to live holy and redeemed lives. Let us go with the confidence that God’s Spirit walks with us and enables us to journey in holiness. Go to be the people of God.

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